The lowly hedgehog* is a favorite creature of mine, adorned as it is with defensive bristles, close to the ground, sturdy and enduring.
So, though I have not yet fathomed the hedgehog’s significance to Muriel Barbery, having only penetrated the first third of her excellent novel, I sense a fellow traveler in her celebration of camellia sinensis and its ceremonies, of the ground, sturdy and enduring.
Kakuzo Okakura, the author of the Book of Tea, laments the rebellion of the Mongolian tribes in the thirteenth century not because it brought death and desolation but because it destroyed one of the creations of the Sung dynasty, the most precious among them, the art of tea. Like Okakura, I know that tea is no minor beverage. When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?
The tea ritual is such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And with each swallow, time is sublimed.
Barbery takes her place in the queue of writers who say what I was going to say, when I found the words.